Sunday, 28 August 2011

Underemployment continues

New church butting against old church illuminated by evening sunlight and stormy skies
I have been trying to remind myself of all things dietetic, while fruitlessly applying for jobs. A vacancy came up not too far from Lola II. The notification arrived in my inbox at midnight; I saw it at 9 a.m. and started to put my application together; by 11 a.m. when I was ready to submit the completed form the vacancy had already closed. I think this might be typical of job vacancies in London.

I have since submitted another application, and notified my referees as usual. One of them emailed back, reassuring me that everyone was finding it difficult to get a job - her service in GNT had received 100 applications for each of two temporary jobs.

Meanwhile I have been sorting through university files, and doing some relevant reading. I found that the abstract relating to my conference poster has been published here. I have asked for some help with some of the questions that let me down in my last interview, according to my feedback, and confirmed that I will be making a contribution to teaching an Advanced Communications Skills postgraduate module in September.

I'm reaching the end of my long list of things I should be doing, which I drew up at the start of this period of underemployment. This means that only the less attractive and more boring or unpleasant jobs are left (although at least the oven is still clean). I gave blood and didn't faint, finally installed wall lights in my room that I must have bought about a year ago, and have even started the process of clearing the jungle of weeds that used to be an area of paving outside. I will have to think of some bigger projects if I don't find a full time dietetic job soon.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

What I've been reading

I've been weeding out books that I don't want to keep, and listing them on Bookmooch. Eight have already gone, but the Morecambe and Wise book in this post and three others are still available: Mansfield Park, One Hit Wonderland and Longitude. If you are interested in taking any of them off my hands, go create yourself an account, put up some books you want to give away, and then mooch these from me (user name leam38) - it's free! Or, alternatively, drop me an email.

Image of the book cover
Morecambe & Wise
by Graham McCann

"This book charts the progress of the duo from a conventional working class music hall act to a mass-audience television team to a national institution. From northern working men's clubs at the beginning of their career to the 1977 Christmas special that had an audience of 28 million, Morecambe and Wise were a double act continually changing the dynamics of their relationship to reflect their influences and their times."
A comprehensive biography of the men and the times, nothing especially revelatory, but a reminder of the fun that used to be Saturday night television. And they are revealed to be very nice men, with integrity, who worked hard for their success. Which they richly deserved, in my opinion. I will always laugh when an emergency vehicle goes by with its siren blaring, and someone says, "They're not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed!"

Image of the book cover
Following the Equator
by Mark Twain

narrated by Michael Kevin
"This vivid chronicle of a sea voyage on the Pacific Ocean displays Twain's eye for the unusual, his wide-ranging curiosity, and his delight in embellishing the facts. The personalities of the ship's crew and passengers, the poetry of Australian place-names, the success of women's suffrage in New Zealand, an account of the Sepoy Mutiny, and reflections on the Boer War as an expression of imperialistic morality, among other topics, are the focus of his wry humor and redoubtable powers of observation."
I enjoyed this for two reasons. One is his humorous turn of phrase, very dry, very Wodehouse. The other is the differences he reveals in the 19th century world through his ordinary narrative of his daily routine. For instance, he describes being given pyjamas to wear in place of his nightshirt, and how he dislikes this garment for various practical reasons, but also because he doesn't want to feel that he is wearing his day clothes in bed. There is no strong storyline, just a series of essays about wherever he is in the world and what he has observed or read or people have told him. To enjoy this I think you have to like Mark Twain's non-fiction, which luckily I do.

Image of the book cover
Diabetes: A Biography
by Robert Tattersall

"The book describes the story of the disease from the ancient writings of Galen and Avicenna to the recognition of sugar in the urine of diabetics in the 18th century, the identification of pancreatic diabetes in 1889, the discovery of insulin in the early 20th century, the ensuing optimism, and the subsequent despair as the complexity of this now chronic illness among its increasing number of young patients became apparent."
Fascinating account of the history of diabetes, including some discussion of the associated complications. In today's scientific age it is instructive to remember how much we know now compared with former times - the simple fact that diabetes has its origin in the pancreas is a surprisingly recent discovery. The extent to which diabetes affects eyes, nerves, kidneys and the cardiovascular system and how it does so are still topics for discussion and disagreement, and the book lays it all out rather well. It's a sobering thought that the information is probably already out of date.

Image of the book cover
The Death Maze
by Ariana Franklin

"Henry II’s favourite mistress, Rosamund Clifford, has been poisoned – and, rumour says, by his jealous wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. If Henry believes the stories, England will be torn apart as King battles Queen. Twelfth-century anatomist, Adelia Aguilar must once again examine the dead as gruesome events unfold."
This is the second book in the series by this author, and the key characters are sustained from the first, which I liked very much. It has sufficient complexity yet key points in the mystery stand out, so you imagine that, if you could be bothered, you could put together the clues and work out whodunnit yourself. All the people that you should care about are likeable, and even the villains are three-dimensional characters. Very satisfying.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Our camping holiday - in pictures

Our friends J and C have a new tent, and are keen to go camping with us. We agree on dates, but, for various reasons, the designated campsite is only about an hour's drive from their home.

We arrive at their house on Friday, ready for our camping weekend, to find J and C less than enthusiastic about camping after all. The weather looks threatening, and Mr A and I have had to make plans to see Mr A's family on Saturday which would leave J and C a little high and dry.

Our huge tent nestling among apple trees and large bushesSo we pitch our tent in their back garden. We are used to this kind of thing. I find that the new tent is pretty easy to erect, with a similar footprint to the old tent, but is absolutely enormous inside. It is a Tent Tardis.

As J and C have never erected their new tent, we decide that they might as well put it up in their garden as well. That way they get to see how difficult it is and whether there are any missing pieces. Mr A and J also get to compare the size, shape, facilities and features of their respective tents in the way that men seem to like to do.

J and Mr A contemplating the rolled up tentJ inspects the instructions in anticipation of the work ahead. Mr A has never read any instructions in his life and is not about to start now. His body language says, "Come on, just unroll the thing and we'll work it out." J has watched a demonstration of how the tent is erected on YouTube, but can't really remember the details.

The tent laid out flat on the lawnThey unroll the thing. It is enormous, and seems complicated.

Mr A and J inserting the fibreglass polesThey start to insert the poles. I am sitting with C drinking tea inside a gazebo, which is why the work of J and Mr A is framed by curtains. We taunt the gentlemen gently yet fruitily, using the words 'erection' and 'poles' a great deal.

Mr A and J lifting the tent into shapeThe poles are inserted into their mountings, constructing the tunnel shape of the tent. All appears to be going well.

The tent takes on its tunnel appearanceThe tent starts to take shape and its configuration becomes clearer. What is not clear is how to support it while the pegs are inserted into the ground. [On this point, J is particularly proud of his repair to a rubber mallet. We are impressed, and inspect the mallet closely. Mr A generously allows J exclusive use of the mallet - I suspect that Mr A is not convinced that the repair will hold and doesn't want the head of a rubber mallet flying off and hitting him in the face.]

The tent appears to have collapsed. J has his hand to his head.Oh, dear. This didn't happen in the YouTube clip. But it is a minor hiccup in a successful operation; the tent is soon erect and securely pegged out.

Mr A and J in the tent interiorThe final touches are made to the inside of the tent, which has two bedrooms, a storage system, large windows all around the porch, and is about a third bigger than ours. Mr A is very envious of the windows, which he compares to those in our tent - ours are too small and high to see out of when sitting down. However, Mr A 'wins' on the matter of the awning, which is included in our package but not in J's - his tent has an awning, but no poles to hold it up.

Mr A with the gas stove and potsJ and C decide that they won't be sleeping in their tent, given that they have very comfortable beds in their house, so the tent is taken down again. Mr A and I are very keen on sleeping in tents, even in people's back gardens, so after a very pleasant evening and dinner, we retire to our accommodation. In the morning, as is customary, Mr A takes care of breakfast. As is also customary, breakfast consists of spicy noodle soup. Close up of breakfast ingredientsThe packet of noodles and stock is supplemented by courgette, mushroom, radish and Polish ham.

The finished product: two bowls of noodle soup After breakfast, we pack up the tent because we are committed to going to the campsite whether we are accompanied or not. However, we return to J and C's place after the family visit to find the weather clement and J and C with renewed enthusiasm for camping after all. We will meet them at the campsite, since we are ready to go and they are still hunting for all the necessary bits and pieces.

Side view of the tent with dodgy poleWe erect our tent at the campsite. Of course, we are experts by now. But disaster strikes. As I stretch the 'canvas' to fit one of the steel side poles, it bends in my hand like putty. Mr A attempts to bend it straight again, but with limited success.

Close up of repair with tyre level, strap and tapeLuckily, a man who doesn't read instructions usually has enough inventiveness to come up with some bodge, and a solution is found in the shape of a tyre lever out of the car, the strap that holds the spare wheel down, and some micropore plaster tape out of my first aid kit. For the first time in all the years I have known him, Mr A did not pack gaffer tape for our trip. Unbelievable.

The rest of the weekend passed without photographic documentation. J and C arrived and put up their tent, Mr A set up the fire basket he'd brought from our house together with a supply of logs, and other friends even turned up later to sit around the campfire with us. On Sunday it rained quite a bit in the morning, but we went for a walk in the afternoon when it was sunny, and then came back and sat around drinking tea and chatting some more in the late afternoon sunshine.

Mr A enjoying a drink in the sunshine

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A short announcement

Pink flower on green background
I Have Cleaned The Oven.

There is still quite a lot of black stuff inside it, but much less than there was.

I have done absolutely nothing else of interest to anyone, so that's it for the time being.

Enjoy the pictures.

Yellow flower on pink background

Monday, 15 August 2011

Down south

Artichoke flower with a bee just landing
Not much to say except that my trip to London and The South was very enjoyable. By the end of Thursday I had reached saturation point with the badminton, something I didn't think was possible, so it was lucky that I hadn't bought any more tickets. Although it was a shame in some ways that I wasn't there, because an unseeded British pair actually made it into the finals. China won all five events in the end: men's and women's singles and doubles plus mixed doubles.

Chicken on the moveAfter contributing no correct answers at all in the pub quiz on Thursday with Mr M, I went on to mum and dad's on Friday, and emptied their loft in anticipation of a visit from the insulation installers. Then on to friends in Surrey, where I concerned myself with chickens, Wisley RHS gardens (lots of good pictures from there), and the London Surrey Cycle Classic.

Bright orange lily against a fresh green backgroundThis last was the test event for the 2012 Olympics in a year's time, and my hosts are keen cyclists. I have to report that in comparison to badminton, this Olympic sport is not very exciting for the onlookers. After we'd stood waiting on the side of the course for half an hour, the hundreds of riders came and went in less than 30 seconds - the motorcycle outriders ahead and behind the pack were much more interesting, and the AA rescue van got just as big a cheer. In fact, the biggest cheer was for a gent in red T-shirt and saggy grey shorts who cycled by just after the cars, bikes, vans and motorcycles had all gone through, with a newspaper on his back rack.

So off we went for a cup of tea, and then I went back to Lola II's to pick up my coat and top up on Japanese food before coming home again. Mr A was pleased to see me, and I'll be doing some badminton playing of my own tonight, after a whole week off. I hope some of the talent of the last week has rubbed off on me.

Pink flower, could be a dahlia or a crysanthamum

Thursday, 11 August 2011

World class badminton

I've been in London this week, watching the World Badminton Championships at Wembley. Inside the Arena, there's nothing but badminton. It's as if the riots and vandalism in the rest of the country were in another world. But on the bus to and from Lola II's house, I pass burnt out buildings, boarded up shops, police cordons, broken windows.

On Monday evening, Lola II was coming back from dinner with a friend in central London, and I was on my way back from Wembley when our tube and bus drivers announced that there was trouble at our destination and the journey would be disrupted. The bus that I was on did an huge detour and I ended up where I needed to be without much trouble. Lola II was kicked out of the tube quite a long way from home. Luckily, Mr M and I were able to drive out to where she was and pick her up.

As I say, while I'm watching the badminton, there's nothing else that intrudes. Outside of those times, what's going on in this country is shameful. It's particularly hard to deal with because there's nothing I can do or say to fix anything. All I have is a single vote every now and then. Spending any time considering the future either of the world economy or our society in general is supremely depressing, so I will spend another day at the badminton and forget about it all for a little while longer.

There aren't the huge crowds that might accompany events for a more mainstream sport. In fact, the arena was half empty on Monday, and yesterday there were still significant numbers of empty seats. The players and games are outstanding though, and it's the same venue and the same players as for the Olympics in a year's time, except that nobody I know has 'won' any tickets of any sort for the Olympics, and these cost me less than a tenner a day. Monday's ticket was free - given away by Badminton England to encourage attendance.

Technicians re-stringing the players' racquetsThe sport is particularly popular and well-supported in the East: top players are from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand and Japan. In Europe, the only players that are in the running for top prizes come from Denmark. Some of the early games are spectacularly mismatched, in size and shape as well as ability and competitiveness. The tiny, ginger Scots kids against the hulking, blonde Austrians was one; the Irish pair looked positively grey in comparison with the other competitors. The east Asians are generally tiny, but they make up for it in fitness and springiness, bouncing high in the air for the smash. The French are most definitely the best turned out.

So now it's stopped raining and I'll get on down to the bus stop for another day of enthralling entertainment. Watch the final rounds on Sky TV, or better skill, get out there and play. It's truly the best sport there is.

View of the great arch of Wembley Stadium

Monday, 8 August 2011

Mediation, not Meditation

sunrise in Jordan
Hello, Lola II here.

It's been aaaages since the Lovely Lola asked for me to contribute to her blog and so, finally, I'm happy to oblige. I have decided to write about my day job. I work for a charity involved in a couple of different areas.

1. Restorative Justice - helping victims and offenders to deal with the effects of a crime - something that the courts don't/can't deal with.

2. Workplace Mediation - helping colleagues to resolve difficulties. Mediation is a much quicker and cheaper alternative to a tribunal. Also, mediation can help with on-going work relationships if the individuals concerned are going to continue working with one another.

3. And my personal baby, Community Mediation - I help neighbours who are in conflict with one another due to noise, pets, communication, communal areas, gardens, shared facilities, parking, and my personal favourite - when Neighbour Lady 1 was disturbed by Neighbour Lady 2's snoring at night - plus much, much more. This is my main area of expertise, along with responsibilities of chief proof-reader, how to change our answerphone message, and Fun&Games Monitor.

A common misconception when it comes to neighbour conflict is that one person is the victim and one the perpetrator. This is very rarely ever the case. Neighbour 1 might be experiencing loud music until 3 a.m., however Neighbour 2 will, invariably, be feeling harassed from Neighbour 1's complaints, rightly or wrongly.
Just today a neighbour called me following her mediation meeting last week. At that meeting, she and her neighbour had agreed on a number of actions for the future, which were written down by the mediators and sent out to them both. She thanked me for the meeting and said that she'd never spoken up for herself like she had to her neighbour, and that she was really pleased she had. She thinks mediation is great and is telling everybody.
I speak to the neighbours from a totally impartial approach - their housing officer has asked me to contact them both - we're an independent charity, we don't take sides and we don't pronounce a judgement after our involvement. We're as far removed from the court system as you can get, other than solving the problem with fisticuffs in the playground.

Noise is the BIG problem. A lot of council housing has poor sound insulation and no money to rectify it. Many people I speak to wonder how mediation can help, since "I'm not going to stop my two and my five year olds playing!" What we find is that by helping neighbours clearly and constructively communicate to one another the 'impact' the difficulties are having on them, the complaint changes from a 'grumpy moan' to a reasonable person trying to live in peace in their home.
Mr S and Mr J fell out over the use of their shared balcony. Making our usual 12 week follow-up call after they reached agreement in mediation, Mr S told us that he invited Mr J to his party, since he realised if Mr J was going to be disturbed by the noise, he might as well be part of it. They'd shared a pot of mint tea after the mediation and, ever since, were getting on like a house on fire.
What I love most about my job is that I help people. I know the beauty of mediation and what it can achieve. My challenge is in encouraging people in conflict to accept mediation as a valid way to resolve their dispute.

8 out of 10 times that neighbours meet in mediation, agreement is reached. Close to 100% of neighbours who return our feedback form after the close of their case say that they would use us again and would recommend our service. I'm very proud.

The key message I work to get across is that people have to take responsibility for their own problems and not expect others to magically change their ways. Empowerment, that's our business.

I was at a networking event some years ago and a fellow delegate asked me "Do you travel to people in their homes?" "Yes," I said. "Do you bring your own candles?"...

I love mediation. Better than meditation any day.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Carrot cake

Cake fresh from the oven
I've had a commission - to make an iced carrot cake for a badminton friend. This is what I have come to in blogging terms - there is nothing vaguely dietetic to report. The rest of my 'to do' list includes laundry, cleaning the oven and sorting out the weeds in the paved area of the garden. This list has remained remarkably consistent, since there never seems an end to the laundry, and the oven and the weed jobs are my least favourite and are therefore likely to remain on the list for quite some time to come.

Actually, there is one dietetic point to note - I didn't get the job I was interviewed for three weeks ago. I have received feedback on points that I will have to work on. Latest adverts: Swansea and Trafford.

So, carrot cake. Without even going online, I have found five recipes in my everyday ordinary cookbooks off the shelf, including one I took the trouble to copy down by hand. Delia's is far too fussy, so she's eliminated straight away; the recipe from the book I won includes ground mace (which I've never even seen in a shop), but is otherwise straightforward. Sophie Grigson's has wholemeal flour, which I think I would like in a carrot cake, but also poppy seeds, which I don't. The one in my own cookbook is weird - 5 eggs and no flour, but ground hazelnuts and fresh breadcrumbs. I must have made it and liked it, otherwise it wouldn't have found its way into my cookbook, but I don't think I'll do it again.

The fifth recipe is from The Ultimate Recipe Book: 50 classic dishes and the stories behind them. It arose from a column in the BBC Good Food magazine that I once subscribed to, in an era when I had time and inclination for interesting cooking. The author, Angela Nilsen, took basic dishes, consulted various eminent chefs and cooks, and tried to come up with the ultimate versions. It ranges from sauces to accompaniments to main dishes and puddings, and everything I have tried from the book seems to work well.

As this is a commission, and must absolutely be a fine cake and no mistake, I did a test run which worked fine. [Now I have the problem of what to do with the test cake - Mr A is not keen on cakes of any sort, and they are currently off limits to me.] The final version is a sandwich with butter icing, and looks very good. I don't think making cakes for profit would be a sensible career option - it's taken me the best part of three days to assemble all the ingredients and equipment and get it finished.

In between all that, I have done some charity shop clothes shopping, all on my own without Lola II. Ordinary retail outlets are still much too scary without Lola II (except for Marks and Spencer), but charity shops seem less intimidating, and luckily Leamington has many of them. The other advantage, apart from the prices, is that you get to try on clothes from lots of different places - stores that I would never enter under normal circumstances. I tried on about 15 different trousers. The pair I ended up with was from M&S.

I also went into Birmingham to meet up with friends, one of whom came with me to see the latest Harry Potter film. He is blind, and unfortunately the film/cinema did not provide Audio Description, so I had to do my best to provide a personal service by whispering key points. I'm not a very good audio describer, and there are an awful lot of characters in the film and quite a lot of fighting. Luckily he'd read the book, so some of the time he could tell me what was going on.

Stop Press: A job within commuting distance has been advertised today. So enough blogging, I have to get my application in.

Finished iced cake

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

"Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells - taken without her knowledge - became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences."
This is a pretty good book on what could have been a very dry subject. It's a complex problem: for sixty years the cells that belonged to Henrietta Lacks have helped pharmaceutical and research companies make effective drugs, and their employees and shareholders have profited, while her family are still reliant on public hospitals. But the law says that we no longer own our cells once they are separated from our bodies, and I tend to agree.

Image of the book cover
by Sebastian Faulks

narrated by Peter Firth
"Set before and during the great war, Birdsong is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself."
I'm not sure where this lies on my quality scale for reading - is it a good book or not? It is another one that is divided into several strands separated by time, and perhaps it is this aspect that I don't much like, like the structure of the Maggie O'Farrell book that I read recently. But the writing quality is good, and life in the trenches during the first World War is vividly captured, so on the whole I'm going to conclude that yes, it is a good book.

Image of the book cover
by Bruce Starling

"As the Great Fog of 1952 descends on London, MI5 outcast Herbert Smith stumbles upon a secret that will change the world - if he can stay alive long enough to tell it. A drunk, perhaps, wandering unsighted through Hyde Park and stumbling into the icy shallows of Long Water. But Max Stensness was stone-cold sober when he died. And in the hours before his death, the young biochemist had claimed to be in possession of a secret that could change the world."
I read this over the weekend that Lola II and I were camping, in the odd moments between activity. Very easy to read, and mostly quite gripping, it purports to be reported fact, and includes details of the period that sometimes seem a little forced - the trial of Derek Bentley doesn't have any bearing on the main plot, and mentioning it doesn't help the rhythm of the story. I'd certainly be prepared to try other books by this author, though.